UPDATE: BIA withdraws letter, approves election amendments

BY JAMI MURPHY
Former Reporter
05/27/2015 02:30 PM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – On May 27, Acting Regional Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Eddie Streater withdrew his letter dated May 11 declining to approve LA-04-14, an act that amends the tribe’s election code.

“On May 21, 2015, during a phone call with the Cherokee Nation’s Office of the Attorney General and other Cherokee Nation representatives, the Department of the Interior requested clarification as to the Nation’s intent to comply with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia’s Order dated September 21, 2011,” his letter states.

That order was set to ensure all Freedmen voters would have the opportunity to participate in the election of the Principal Chief as well as give access to and have rights and benefits the same as all Cherokee Nation citizens.

Streater further states in his letter that the DOI is bound by that Order.

“While there has been subsequent tribal legislation, including that establishing the election procedures for the upcoming election of the Principal Chief, as well as intervening tribal judicial decisions, your Attorney General has by letter dated May 22, 2015, affirmed the Nation’s commitment to follow the 2011 court order,” the letter states.

In Attorney General Todd Hembree’s letter to the DOI, it states that Freemen voters participated in the 2011 election, the tribal council election in 2013 and three special elections.

“Because of the Cherokee Nation’s commitment to comply with the 2011 Order and the continued effectiveness of the 2011 order, I hereby withdraw my May 11, 2015 letter and now approve the 2015 Election Procedures for the sole and limited purpose of the upcoming election for the Principal Chief,” Streater’s letter states. “ As you are aware, we are currently awaiting judicial resolution of the status of the Freedmen under the 1866 Treaty between the United States and the Nation. The United States position continues to be that the 1866 Treaty guarantees the Freemen and their descendants full citizenship rights in the Cherokee Nation.”

Hembree said in an earlier Cherokee Phoenix story that although initially the BIA chose to decline LA-04-14, there would be an election on June 27 and this clarification solidifies that statement.

“The Cherokee Nation is pleased that the Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs has decided to withdraw its May 11, 2015 letter. We have been notified by the BIA today (May 27) that the election procedures to select the Principal Chief have been approved in accordance with federal law,” Hembree said. “It is a testament to the Cherokee Nation doing its utmost to resolve the Freedmen issue and any remaining questions concerning our Constitution. We look forward to a election on June 27 in accordance with the laws that have been passed by the Cherokee Nation.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs Eastern Oklahoma Regional Office released a letter on May 11 to Principal Chief Bill John Baker that stated it declined to approve LA-04-14. The Regional Office offered comments in regards to how it came to its decision.

“Because LA-04-14 is so extensively intertwined with the appropriate provisions within the 1976 Constitution, it is impossible to propose revisions to LA-04-14 to reference appropriate provisions within the 1976 Constitution,” the letter states. “Because LA-04-14 purports to be based on the authority in a Constitution which the Regional Office does not recognize, we decline to approve LA-04-14.”

The Regional office also referred to the term “citizen of the Cherokee Nation” stating that provisions in LA-04-14 indicate that only persons of Cherokee blood are tribal members.

“Given the extensive litigations regarding the Freedmen, the Regional Office cannot approve LA-04-14 because to do so may imply recognition of removal of the Freedmen as citizens,” the letter states.

And finally, in regards to absentee voter rules in LA-26-14, the letter states that it is an amendment to Title 26 of the Cherokee Nation Code Annotated.

“Approving LA-26-14 may be interpreted as approving LA-04-14; therefore, we decline to approve LA-26-14,” it states.

Hembree said tribal officials met with the BIA and Department of Justice to seek clarification of the letter and to also present additional information and as well as inform the bureau on action the CN has taken to resolve certain issues which is what led to the withdrawal of the May 11 BIA letter.

He added that the many within the tribe fully expected a decision to have come down from the courts regarding the May 4, 2014 hearing on the Freedmen issue, but it has not.

“But whatever that ruling is we will assess it and take the action that is most beneficial to the Cherokee Nation,” Hembree said.

Click here to viewthe letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Click here to viewthe updated letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs.

News

BY STAFF REPORTS
06/27/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At a June 26 special meeting, the Election Commission amended the contract of Commissioner Carolyn Allen by adding $15,600. The commission also voted to give EC clerk Kendall Bishop its Employee Appreciation Award for Employee of the Year. She will receive it during the Cherokee Nation’s employee appreciation picnic on June 30. The EC also approved minutes from the June 13 regular and June 5 special meetings.
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/26/2017 12:00 PM
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – According to a U.S. Attorney’s Office release, 12 people, including some Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians citizens, were charged with marriage fraud conspiracy and related charges, for entering into sham marriages for the purpose of evading U.S. immigration laws. Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, said the indictments were unsealed on June 21 naming Ruth Marie Sequoyah McCoy, 54, of Cherokee; Timothy Ray Taylor, 41, of Cherokee; Golan Perez, 38, of Cherokee; Ofir Marsiano, 41, of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; Kaila Nikelle Cucumber, 27, of Cherokee; Jessica Marie Gonzalez, 26, of Cherokee; Jordan Elizabeth Littlejohn, 28, of Cherokee; Kevin Dean Swayney, 36, of Cherokee; Ilya Dostanov, 28, of Panama City, Florida; Ievgenii Reint, 26, of St. Simons Island, Georgia; Shaul Levy, 26, of Norfolk, Virginia; and Yana Peltz, 30, of Israel. The release states all defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. Marsiano is also charged with four counts of marriage fraud, and McCoy and Perez are each charged with three counts of marriage fraud. Taylor, Cucumber, Gonzalez, Littlejohn, Swayney, Dostanov, Levi and Peltz each face one additional count of marriage fraud. According to allegations in the indictment, beginning in or about June 2015, and continuing through December 2016, in Swain and Jackson counties, the defendants engaged in a fraudulent marriage scheme, in which foreign nationals paid to enter into fraudulent marriages with U.S. citizens to secure lawful permanent residence in the U.S. The indictment alleges McCoy, Perez and Marsiano arranged the marriages by connecting U.S. citizens, including Cucumber, Gonzalez, Littlejohn, and Swayney, with non-citizens, including Dostanov, Reint and Peltz. The non-U.S. citizens typically would pay $1,500 to $3,000 in exchange for the services. The indictment alleges once paired, the U.S. citizens and non-citizens would travel to Sevier County, Tennessee, and enter into fraudulent marriages with each other. The indictment states that, in most cases, after obtaining their marriage certificates, the non-citizens applied for adjustments to their immigration statuses based on their marriages to their U.S. spouses. The indictment further alleges that, at times, McCoy and Taylor also acted as “sponsors” for the non-citizens’ applications for adjustments to their immigration statuses, and in exchange, they received additional monetary compensation. Of the 12 defendants charged, seven were arrested on June 21 and appeared in federal court on the charges. Littlejohn, Dostanov, Reint, Levy and Peltz had not been arrested as of publication. The marriage fraud conspiracy and marriage fraud charges each carry a maximum prison term of five years, per count.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
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BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
06/24/2017 02:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — State environmental officials say elevated mercury levels in fish have been found in 14 more lakes in Oklahoma than last year. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality plans a public meeting for Tuesday to discuss the mercury levels. The agency says a total of 54 lakes have mercury advisories — which is up 14 since the last advisory in 2016. The advisories deal with mercury levels in fish and do not affect drinking water safety or lake recreational activities like swimming or boating. The 14 new lakes added to the advisory are: Arcadia Lake, Birch Reservoir, Boomer Lake, Copan Reservoir, El Reno Lake, Greenleaf Reservoir, Lone Chimney Lake, Lake McMurtry, Lake Murray, Pawnee Lake, Lake Ponca, Lake Raymond Gary, Shell Lake and Waurika Reservoir.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
06/24/2017 11:00 AM
HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. – While traveling the Trail of Tears’ northern route “Remember the Removal” cyclists visited sites where Cherokees stayed during their forced removal in the winter of 1838-39, with several sites housing graves of Cherokees who died along the trek. The Trail of Tears Commemorative Park in Hopkinsville acted as a camping spot and gravesite during the removal. Alice Murphree, Kentucky Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association president, said the site contains Chief Whitepath and Chief Fly Smith’s graves as well as a grave with unknown remains. She said Whitepath, an assistant conductor with the Elijah Hicks detachment, died about 10 days after arriving at the site. “He come sick coming out of Nashville, and as the trail proceeded he felt sicker and sicker. By the time they got to the spot at Hopkinsville he was so ill that the Elijah Hicks detachment had to leave him here and go on,” she said. Murphree said Smith was “sickly” for most of the journey before dying at the site. “Stephen Foreman (minister serving as assistant conductor of the Old Field detachment) and his wife stayed behind with him and that (Old Field) detachment moved on,” she said. “I guess it was just within a day or two. I don’t know exact dates, but they (chiefs) died within hours of one another. They (Foremans) went to the city and asked if they could bury him in the city. The city would not allow them to be buried there. The Latham family owned all of this property and agreed to let him be buried here.” It is said that Cherokees are buried in Union County, Illinois, at the Camp Ground Church and Cemetery. Sandra Boaz, Illinois Chapter of the TOTA president, said it was determined by ground penetrating radar that there are around 10 ground anomalies the sizes of graves at the site. “After 1834 a man by the name of Mr. Hileman took out a land patent and brought his family here. Sometime in the winter of 1837-38 he had two small preschool-aged children who passed away and he buried them, as family oral history says,” she said. “Then when the Cherokee came through…they had made arrangements for them to camp on this site. As they were stopped here due to the ice flows on the Mississippi River, naturally some of them passed away. So story says that Mr. Hileman had them buried out in the field by his little boys. So that was the basis for getting this site certified as a National Trail of Tears site with the National Park Service.” For more information, visit www.nationaltota.com.
BY STAFF REPORTS
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TAHELQUAH, Okla. – The American Indian Resource Center has received a $30,000 Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative grant from the Colorado-based First Nations Development Institute. According to First Nations, the funding will help build a sustainable food source (fruits/vegetables) for three tribal communities with the aim of increasing consumption of healthy foods. Families will be reintroduced to growing/gathering their own foods while making healthier lifestyle choices. The award was one of 15 program grants to Native American tribes and organizations under First Nations’ Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative. According to First Nations, each funded project aims to strengthen local food-system control; increase access to local, healthy and traditional foods; and/or decrease food insecurity and food deserts, all with an emphasis on serving Native American children and families. The release states it is hoped that the projects will noticeably improve a tribe or community’s effort to increase access to healthy and fresh foods for vulnerable children, families and communities. Additionally, the efforts will help increase awareness of and involvement with where the community’s food comes from, and expand knowledge of the linkages between foods, Native cultures and/or contribute to tribal economic growth and the development of entrepreneurially-related food ventures. First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States, according to the release. Its states that for more than 36 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage, or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.firstnations.org" target="_blank">www.firstnations.org</a>.